A genetic modification drug is being developed that will cure Alzheimer’s and increase intelligence in apes. This drug is being tested on apes but when the results seem to yield some violent side effects the experimental program is shut down and a new born chimpanzee, whose mother was a test subject that had to be put down, is taken in by one of the scientists, Will Rodman, played by James Franco recently from 127 Hours (2010), Howl (2010) Milk (2008) and the Spider-man movies (2002 – 2007) to be raised secretly as a human in his own home.
What makes this movie stand out and so different from the original series is the modern contemporary look and that the apes look so much more menacing and realistic compared to the actors in costumes and masks of the original. Thanks to Weta Digital and the motion capture technology that was used and pioneered in Avatar (2009), the apes actually look like real apes. The line between the ape make-up and human emotion is completely erased now, making these apes so much more apelike but at the same time also more human.
The original series had a very unique visual style and design that you instantly recognized as being The Planet of the Apes but this movie, being an origin story, does not yet have that iconic look of the Apes culture from the original because they have not yet developed it. That will likely come in the next installments. This may be why some critics are not feeling this movie yet. Aside from that though, you cannot argue with the time and effort that was taken to develop the story and make it as emotionally authentic and heart felt as it could be.
The filmmakers have taken a fresh new approach to the series and it has definitely paid off. The movie is very satisfying on many levels and stands on its own merits. The absolute stand out performance here is from the actor Andy Serkis who also played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 – 2003) and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake King Kong (2005) and is getting critical acclaim for his performance in this movie as the orphaned chimpanzee named Caesar.
We see Caesar raised from infancy into a brooding but intelligent adult ape who finds himself in a frightening and dangerous situation when he is eventually locked up and forced to live with fearsome, abused, unintelligent primates at a shelter for abandoned zoo and circus apes that is run like a prison. Abused by his human keepers as well as the alpha male simians in the shelter, Caesar must use his intellect to survive and win over the apes to help them escape their human captors. How he does this is the high point in the film and a defining moment that is exhilarating to watch. It is a shocking scene because you don’t see it coming and at the same time it’s beautifully tied in with the classic series.
Will is forced to use the experimental drug on his own father to save him from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease thus taking the experiments into the human trials phase. But the drug eventually has a devastating effect on humans and the same drug that has made the apes intelligent is now also the cause of the human’s downfall.
This new series is going to be very exciting to watch for a new generation of filmgoers as it develops over the next few installments because the filmmakers, as Andy Serkis and director Rupert Wyatt insist, are dedicated to the powerful emotional authenticity of the story and making it as realistic and truthful as possible.
What’s remarkable is how close and similar the story of this Rise of the Planet of the Apes is to a new documentary that was released recently called Project Nim (2011), which is about a real chimpanzee who is taken from its mother to live with humans as an experiment to find out what apes are thinking by teaching it to use sign language. In this documentary the intelligent ape eventually becomes too violent to live with humans and is sent to a shelter for abandoned animals. This true story does not end well for the chimpanzee but is an extremely interesting and poignant tale of human cruelty to animals despite their good intentions.